Team Israel vaults into the 2017 World Baseball Classic and accomplishes much more

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Team Israel wearing their kippot during Hatikvah before the game against Great Britain on September 22, 2016. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This September, the last spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic field of 16 nations fell to Israel as Israeli Baseball won a tournament in Brooklyn, New York over teams from Brazil, Britain and Pakistan.

Israel can play ball. The Israeli national team narrowly missed qualifying for the World Championships in 2012 and neither the 2012 roster, which nearly gained the finals, nor the current triumphant qualifiers were just some charmed pickup squads.

Zach Borenstein, Team Israel
Zach Borenstein, Team Israel (Israel Baseball)

“Israel’s roster includes 20 Major League Baseball-affiliated minor-leaguers, making up 86% of the team, more than any other team in the qualifiers…” (Israel at the 2017 WBC)

The 2016 version of Team Israel was assembled by Peter Kurz (President of the Israel Association of Baseball), with an informal team of baseball scouts and experts of Jewish baseball, including Scott Barancik (Jewish Baseball News) and Ephraim Moxson and Shel Wallman (Jewish Sports Review).

Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers famed "Hebrew Hammer"
Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers’ famed “Hebrew Hammer” (New York Times Photo)

How proud of Israel’s accomplishment Hank Greenberg, the famed “Hebrew Hammer,” member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and one of the most feared sluggers of his generation would have been. But, as always seems the case in these latter days in Israel, there’s much more to the story.

Callie Mitchell emigrated from the US to Israel in 2009 joining her husband, Devin, who made Aliyah in 2006. Their family now lives in Jerusalem. A housewife and mother of two (with a third on the way), Callie has been around baseball all of her life. It happens that Callie’s father, former big-leaguer Jerry Narron, coached third base for the Israeli national team in New York this historic September when Israel qualified to compete in the 2017 world championships. But Narron’s long-time involvement with Israel Baseball, according to Callie, was and is about much more than winning tournaments.

Callie explains her thinking in the short interview that follows.

KNI: How did your father get involved with the Israeli National Baseball team?

Callie Mitchell: The weekend my father, Jerry Narron, left the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, he went back to North Carolina and a friend of his who was an umpire invited him to lunch. The umpire had worked here in Israel in the adult league and told my dad about it. Devin started emailing me that same weekend so it seemed like the Lord was aligning our whole family to be in line with this calling to be in Israel. Later, having a son, I was curious about baseball in Israel so I emailed the league and told them who I was and what my dad did. I eventually connected my father with Peter Kurz, the Director of Israel Baseball. On one of my dad’s visits here Peter asked if he might be interested in coaching for the national team. That eventually happened and Dad was honored. I think being on the Israeli staff is one of the highlights of his career.

Callie and Devin Mitchell and their first child, Aviel, at the ballpark
Callie and Devin Mitchell and their first child, Aviel, at the ball park

KNI: Have you spoken to your dad after Team Israel won the tournament in New York?

Callie Mitchell: Yes. They were thrilled, really excited. Of course, they felt very confident going in because they had such a great roster. There were a lot of guys who had played on the team and had just missed winning last time, in 2012. So they were extremely excited.

KNI: You mentioned that your father’s experience in Israel has been about much more than baseball.

Callie Mitchell: Since my dad has been kept on the coaching staff he has had opportunities to speak to the Jewish National Fund and share about being a Christian with a heart for Israel. And just a little bit about having an Israeli daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren.

Jerry Narron filling out the Israeli Team Lineup at the World Baseball Qualifier in Brooklyn
Callie’s father, Jerry Narron filling out the Israeli Team Lineup at the World Baseball Qualifier in Brooklyn

It’s  also been interesting to see  to see how the Lord has made an opening for my dad [thanks to this experience with the Israeli national team] to be a light to the Jewish people in the United States.

In August, before the World Baseball Classic took place, we had breakfast with Peter Kurz. Peter explained the process that Israel Baseball had to follow to qualify their roster, having to organize and collect the players’ identification documents in virtually the same detail as if they were applying to make Aliyah. I was astounded to hear that, thinking, he’s doing something so much bigger than he realizes.

Thanks to the qualifying process for baseball, all of the guys on the team are now basically Aliyah-ready. They had to dive in and find birth and death certificates and circumcision and marriage certificates… Everything one would need to make Aliyah had to be found for these Jewish ballplayers to participate in the tournament. That seems significant to me. Israel Baseball didn’t only provide them with an opportunity to play in a unique tournament but also helped them and their families get organized to come to Israel at some point in the future if they wished.

Because I have a heart for Aliyah, that was extremely moving to discover.

What was stirring in my heart was, this is bigger than just baseball. It’s something the Lord is doing to bless the nation of Israel and to help the Jewish people return home. It was about His kingdom and His purpose in restoring this nation, more than winning a tournament.


More info:

How a former MLB manager became a coach for the Israeli Baseball Team (Grapevine)

How a survivor’s son is bringing baseball to Israel (Forward.com)

From Israel Baseball: The World Baseball Classic tournament, operated by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, has been held once every four years since 2005. The tournament features the top 16 baseball playing countries in the world. From 2013, four spots were opened to qualifiers, with each qualifier competing in a pool of four teams for a place in the main tournament. In the March 2013 tournament, the Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico in the final. The teams taking part in the 2017 tournament are: Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, USA and Venezuela. The other qualifiers were Australia, Colombia and Mexico.